Many Paths woke with a start. She felt unusually cold for a summer morning. It felt as though a cool breeze was slicing through the wall of their cabin. She turned toward Shadow Walker’s side of the bed to tease him again about not sufficiently caulking the spaces between the logs. Then, she sighed, recalling that he was gone. Again.
Ah, well, she thought, I can do it myself later today. Perhaps I can get Tu-Swift to help. She sat up and swung her legs over the edge of her sleeping pallet. The room swam before her eyes. She wondered what was going on. She had heard about so-called “Dances of the Earth” but had never felt one. Fear for her people tugged at her heart. She put her eye close to one of the large openings between the logs and peered outside. The bright light of day seemed to stab her eye and she recoiled quickly. The room seemed to spin again. “I am not myself” she said aloud.
She put her hands on her knees and stood slowly. She noticed that her hands were sweating. But she was freezing cold. She staggered toward the door and felt as though she needed to begin her nights sleep — not the usual energy of morning. She drew back the deerskin covering of the cabin and once again, the bright morning sunlight seemed to stab at her eyes. She jerked her head back and again felt a wave of dizziness wash over her.
The light was too bright. For one thing….
“Good morning, Many Paths! You slept well, I see!” He chuckled. “But you’re not alone. It seems everyone slept late today! Too much of a feast last night, I guess.”
The image of Tu-Swift swung into view. “Good morning. No, actually, I didn’t … I don’t know. I don’t feel right.”
Tu-Swift took a few steps toward her and peered more closely. He’s smile fell to pieces like a dropped vase. “Sister, you do not look good. And… and your face is covered with red dots. What is that?”
Many Paths put her hands to her face. She could feel that the skin was bubbled with teeny mountains of skin. “I don’t feel good. I’m hot and cold at the same time.” She began to shiver.
“Come on!” said Tu-Swift. “Let me help you over to see She Who Saves Many Lives. Maybe she has seen this before. I wanted to talk with you any way.” He reached up and took her hand. She was so unsteady, he decided to take her by the arm instead. As he did so, her robe slipped up her arm and they both stared at her bare forearm which also was covered with tiny red dots. “What is that?!” he repeated with more urgency in his voice.
Many Paths felt weak and shaky. She couldn’t make herself think straight. She notice that Tu-Swift’s grip was powerful. He was growing up fast. Too fast. Too swift. She chuckled.
“What’s so funny, Many Paths? What are laughing about?”
“What?” she replied. “I don’t know. Where is everyone?”
“I don’t know, Sister. As I said, everyone felt lazy I guess. Too much food?”
“Food?” asked Many Paths. “No, thank you. I’m not really hungry. Not hungry exactly. Our guests? They are gone, right?”
“Yes, they left four days ago. Are you all right? And then Shadow Walker and Eagle Eyes went to track them back and try to discover more about the Z-Lotz. Remember?”
“Of course. Yes. That’s right. Why are you here? I thought you wanted to go with Suze … or Cat Eyes.”
“No, sister. You are definitely not well. I would like to have gone with Cat Eyes to see those Veritas over the twin peaks, but I am still not able to walk far or even ride. Sorry. It still bothers my knee. Anyway, I was coming to see you — I’ll tell you later. Here we are at the home of She Who Saves Many Lives. Ah, but I see we are not the first.”
She Who Saves Many Lives came to door of her cabin. “Welcome. I am glad you are here, Many Paths. I have a puzzle here and no solution. Can you show Many Paths your hands?”
Stone Chipper appeared in the doorway and nodded to Many Paths. “I am most glad to see you, Many Paths. I was scared. I came and spoke from your cabin door, but you did not answer. With the sun so high in the sky already, I assumed you had already gone out. I have had cuts and bruises of course but nothing like this. And my hands are quite tough normally.”
Many Paths seemed to forget for a moment her own malady and took too large a step forward, falling into the arms of Stone Chipper. “Are you all right, Many Paths?” he asked.
“Yes. Yes. What happened to your hands? They … boiling water? What…?” Many Paths suddenly sat on the edge of a bench near the door. She took the hands of Stone Chipper in her hands, closed her eyes, and took a deep breath. And another. And another.
At last, she asked, quite calmly and coherently, “What did you do to your hands? You don’t know?”
Stone Chipper shook his head. “No.”
“Have you eaten anything unusual lately? Something not shared with the tribe because it was too small to bother with?”
Stone Chipper thought back over the last few days. “No. Nothing. Nothing unusual or unshared.”
Many Paths tried to look into the heart and mind of Stone Chipper. He was clearly quite worried. Surely, he had burned his hands before. It hurt…but… “Does it feel burned?”
Stone Chipper nodded vigorously. “Yes. A bit different. But very much like a burn. But I haven’t burned myself! Not recently. And not like this. My hands. All over my hands? I would have noticed. Right? That’s what is scaring me. Not the burn. But how could I be burned like this and not even notice?”
Many Paths took another deep breath. “What have you had in your hands?”
“Just the usual, Many Paths. My tools. My stones. My food. And, that glass. You know, that the Z-Lotz gave us.”
Many Paths said, “You’ve been working with that gift? That stuff they called glass?”
Stone Chipper said, “Yes. Trying to. But it isn’t that good. Shiny. But rather useless. At least so far, I have not figured out how to shape it and it breaks so easily. I guess it’s just supposed to look pretty. It feels extremely smooth and slightly warm, come to think of it. But not hot enough to burn me, if that’s what it is.”
Many Paths looked at him more intently, “You said that it felt almost like a burn. How does it feel different?”
Stone Chipper. “I am not sure. But, usually, when you get burned, it is from the outside in. This feels almost like I am burned from the inside out. And, my hands feel just slightly less strong, as well. It’s very odd.”
Many Paths, “Do you think that somehow this glass caused these — burns?”
Stone Chipper thought for awhile. “I don’t know. Maybe. But I didn’t feel any burning until yesterday and I began working with it almost immediately. I was very curious. And hopeful. But so far — nothing. It just sits there and looks pretty. I guess I did — play with it a lot the first two days. I can’t say work, but turning, trying. And, here’s another thing. It’s no big deal, but you see this place where my hand has grown hard on the side of my thumb? But next to it…that is not from working stone. And it doesn’t look like these other spots. Could that be from the same thing?”
Many Paths looked over at She Who Saves Many Lives and said, “Have you seen such things, Oh, Wise One of the Shaman of She, She Who Saves Many Lives? Who were the others?”
“No. I have not. I will, of course, search all my memories, in case one of them has fallen asleep behind the hut, but — as I am old and have many memories, that will take some time. Dreams may bring answers as well. My advice would be not to go anywhere near that glass. What do you think, Many Paths?”
Many Paths looked at She Who Saves Many Lives carefully. Ever since Many Paths had been declared the successor, She Who Saves Many Lives always deferred to Many Paths before giving advice. It still seems good advice though. And that was the important thing. “Yes, I concur. Where is it now?”
“My son decided to see whether he could — you think this is dangerous! I shouldn’t let him touch it either!” Stone Chipper turned and started running toward the spot where he kept his tools near the bend in the river where many stones collected. This is where He Who Sees Horses, his son, was probably working.
She Who Saves Many Lives walked forward and took the face of Many Paths in her hands. “Many Paths. You are not well. Not at all. And, I think you know it. Am I right?”
Many Paths nodded. “Yes. Though I do not know what is wrong. I haven’t touched the glass at all. I was curious but — I just had a very creepy feeling about those Z-Lotz who came here. I had a little of that feeling when they first got here. But once they said I was supposed to go alone to the Z-Lotz City? Really creepy. Something…not good. They brought a gift that they knew was poison? What kind of a person would do such a thing?”
She Who Saves Many Lives tilted her head. “Many Paths. Listen. We must get you well. I need to cool you down. You have a high-summer-noon fever. We will then have time to discuss anything you like. But with a clearer head. You are not thinking quite clearly, but I will cool you down and then we can talk.”
Many Paths arose, unsure which way to turn. Tu-Swift looked at She Who Saves Many Lives and saw her gesture for them to enter her cabin. Together they laid Many Paths down. Many Paths took several deep breaths and fell asleep.
She Who Saves Many Lives looked at Tu-Swift and clapped him on both shoulders. “Tu-Swift, go to the Spring by the Lonely Tulip Tree and bring me a large skin of cold water. Hurry. I have to bring her fever down to early-summer-noon.”
She Who Saves Many Lives sat down on the edge of the sleeping pallet where Many Paths lay sleeping. She looked her over more thoroughly. Taking off these warming clothes will be good anyway. These tiny red dots are everywhere, she thought to herself.
“Foolish!” the old shaman muttered to herself in reproof. She shook her head and thought, I knew something was wicked about those visitors. We fell for it twice. Our scouts thought they came to trade the first time and they snuck up and killed them. And then stole Tu-Swift. And, now they obviously want to get Many Paths there alone in order to kill her. But even knowing all that, it didn’t occur to me that they would give a so-called gift that would burn a person’s hands. “Despicable!” she hissed aloud between her teeth.
“I swear,” she muttered, “if it’s the last thing I do, these people will pay for their so-called gift.” She breathed out. She breathed in. “Or gifts?” She began to wonder whether these red dots could be from some other so-called ‘gift’ of theirs? How can —? That is a great mystery. POND MUD and ALT-R and then they corrupted KAVA-NUT as well. NUT-PI. Killing Sticks. Why not be a loving part of life instead of being like them?
She Who Saves Many Lives looked down at Many Paths. The truth is, she thought, I do love her like a daughter. She seems to be resting. Where is Tu-Swift? She walked to the entrance and stood on the threshold, taking in the harmony around her. The trees, the birds, the squirrels, and the Veritas. It was all in harmony. Of course, there is hunger and satiation; there is birth and there is death. But there is not … anywhere I can see … the evil that is in some human hearts to make everything like them or under their control … from where does such an evil arise … that what is said to be a gift is actually something horrible … against the harmony of life itself. She sighed. She looked around and filled her heart with the certain knowledge that all of this harmony was far more powerful than the evil in the very darkest of hearts. Evil can only destroy. And when enough is destroyed, the evil itself must die because — lacking love, it cannot create. It cannot create anything. Those who take such a path as that have already died inside. And they want all the world to be like they are.
She Who Saves Many Lives heard Many Paths stir and turned back inside to tend her. With Love.